UEFA: One step forward, two steps back

I’m simultaneously optimistic and terrified about the future of European football.

This duality of emotion comes from a pair of things I learned yesterday. Firstly, I learned (or rather, was reminded of) UEFA’s beta testing of its five-referee system for Europa League (nee UEFA Cup) matchups. The two “additional assistant referees” essentially chill out for most of the game near either team’s goal, and are called into action when it comes to contentious issues like diving, corner kick scrums and goal/no goal situations, communicating with the man in the middle via headset.

Though it took a moment to adjust to seeing a referee wandering around near the goal line as the action entered the penalty area, I must say, I quite like this idea. As Phil McThomas at EPL Talk suggested, it eliminates the polarizing bitterness of the video replay debate, while also hopefully cutting down on the modern game’s cancerous elements, such as simulation and the embarrassment around goals incorrectly awarded (or not awarded).

However, while it would be nice to eliminate diving and other bullshit from the game, these additional referees cost money. And it appears money is something that — aside from a handful of the uber-wealthy super-clubs — European football doesn’t really have.

And that’s where my terror comes in. It was revealed yesterday that about a quarter of the clubs in Europe’s first divisions are losing money. Not West Bumblefuck United of the Sprightdale Sunday League… top division clubs. I’m not going to wade into the reasons behind this, as there are many overlapping circumstances that transcend the scope of this goofy blog. But suffice to say, something is clearly wrong with a system that has a team that drops $400 million in one offseason regularly competing against a team that can’t even meet payroll regularly.

For its part, UEFA is saying the right things, about financial responsibility, about the current recession, and about their intention to implement laws that force clubs to break even on their soccer operations without incurring long-term debt.

But my impression is that UEFA, like every other soccer governing body on the planet, really has no overall goal other than to maximize profits by squeezing every single ounce of physical capability out of any player who laces up and gets on the pitch. If the long-theorized SuperLeague — or whatever you’d call a permanent league of the continent’s aforementioned uber-wealthy super-clubs — could be proven to ultimately produce more revenue than the current situation, do you honestly believe the bigwigs would give half a damn about the health of the smaller clubs or, indeed, the game itself?

So while the nice, happy story is that UEFA is cracking down on divers (which is about as uncontroversial as saying you support the incarceration of puppy-kickers), I’m afraid that European football is sitting on a bubble. Just like the dot-com companies in the last decade. Just like the subprime mortgage lenders in this decade.

The question is: can Michel Platini et. al. find a way to stabilize the bubble before it bursts?

Or do they even care to?


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